Now a three piece following the somewhat acrimonious departure of lead vocalist Thebon back in 2013 where the band claimed he had disappeared into Africa never to return (he is alive for those curious), Keep of Kalessin return in 2015 with their brand new album "Epistemology", their first release in nearly 5 years and their first album title which I had to Google as I had no idea what the word actually meant. As it turns out, it is the study of knowledge and justified belief and just how much information on a topic can be digested before a saturation point is released and it is certainly an interesting word to have as the title of your new album. Keep of Kalessin's particular brand of thrashing melodic black metal has drawn plenty of praise in the past, especially on 2006's "Armada" and its follow up "Kolossus" from 2008 but on their 2010 release "Reptilian" there was a distinct feeling of boundary-pushing underlying a lot of the music. Whilst instrumentally it continued in the same vein of "Kolossus", i.e. speedy melodic black metal akin to the fastest moments of Dissection and Immortal, clean vocals were often found layering some of the more melodic sections of instrumentals and this is a trend continued upon "Epistemology" with an interesting set of results.
The continued integration of clean vocals into Keep of Kalessin's music initially throws the listener off-kilter somewhat on the albums true first track "The Spiritual Belief" ("Cosmic Revelation" is a classic modern metal introductory track that serves no real purpose) which see's drummer Vyl (real name Vegar Larsen) lay down some of the most furious blast beats of his career alongside clean vocals akin to the latest effort from Ensiferum. This juxtaposition of styles occasionally crops up at various points in the album but it is no more prominent than on this track and it serves as a confusing opening to an album that, upon repeated listens is surprisingly refreshing and well crafted on the whole. The artwork is equally confusing, with one feeling it would look much more at home of the cover of the upcoming Obscura or Alkaloid records, but maybe that is nothing more than a personal pet peeve.
|Epistemology; beautiful, if somewhat confused artwork|
The balance is however restored on "Dark Divinity" which comes out the gates thrashing wildly in a blaze of eerie melody and powerful drumming similar to what the band were achieving on "Armada". The nature of the melody Keep of Kalessin employs on this song also helps greatly in the effectiveness of the clean vocals, lending the track a strange, sci-fi ridden vibe at points and it helps the listener really cling onto the albums first truly memorable moment.
It should be noted at this point just how good some of the guitar work is on this album. As alluded too, whilst still very much a part of most songs on the album, the twisting black metal melodies the band became known for on "Armada" especially are usually buried at the beginning and ends of the songs, with big marching riffs dominating the majority of the songs lengths.The aforementioned "Dark Divinity" has one such riff, but rather than being a hindrance it provides a hook which helps greatly with the memorability factor of the album. A similar technique is also seen on tracks such as "Necropolis" where Obsidian Claw's black metal rasp is supported by a huge riff not too distant from what was seen on the latest Shade Empire record "Omega Arcane".
|Keep of Kalessin: Alive and still very much kicking and thrashing|
After the halfway point on the album, the songs start to settle back into the formula which the band was known for in the past which both helps and hinders their memorability. The continual blast beats of Vyl are certainly impressive on a scale of technique and stamina, but part of the reason why "Necropolis" works so well as a song is that it allows other strong elements to shine through. With such a dominant focus upon the drums, the well-crafted melodic black metal leads and thick, chunky bass playing on "Universal Core" can get lost in the mix unless one really tries to pick them out and this is something which the majority of listeners, by-and-large will simply not bother to do. This also helps explain why "Introspection" is so effective as a track showing what "Epistemology" is all about. By backing away from 200bpm blast beats, it demonstrates melodies one would expect to find on classic Keep of Kalessin material as well as other blackened acts such as Thulcandra and Finntroll, alongside Obsidian Claw's black metal rasp and well-worked gang vocals. If these elements were worked into "Epistemlogy" on a greater frequency, then this release could have been spectacular. As it is, it is a good album that demonstrates the current vision of Keep of Kalessin and the style they may pursue in the future.
This is not to say "Epistemology" is a bad album. Far from it in fact. The production values really shine forth on the slower, more riff based numbers and the bands venturing into slower, more riff based and atmospheric territories works a treat when it shines through. However, with only two real defining songs on a disk that eclipses 50 minutes, the moments of magic can get lost in the mix and this only serves as detriment to an otherwise enjoyable album. If they can iron out the kinks and focus more on the unique aspects of this disk, then Keep of Kalessin could write a very special album next time round.